MADONNA LILY is a traditional cure for corns. It is suggested that Roman legions planted it round their camps - it certainly grows apparently wild in all the countries that were in the Roman empire (Coats. 1956). IVY leaves are a widespread and favourite remedy for corns, used still from the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides to Cornwall. The Hebridean practice is to put a poultice of ivy leaves and vinegar on the corn (Shaw), and exactly the same procedure is used in Somerset (Tongue). They say in Cornwall that corns will drop out in about a week after putting bruised leaves on them (Deane & Shaw); exactly the same is claimed in Ireland - if the corn is still there after a few days, then a handful of ivy leaves is put to steep in a pint of vinegar in a tightly corked bottle for a couple of days. Then the liquid is carefully put on the corn, taking care it does not get on the skin (Logan). They say that John Wesley, who walked enormous distances, used ivy leaves to soothe his tired feet; certainly, in Primitive Physick, we find "Corns (to cure) ... apply fresh Ivy-leaves daily and in 15 days they will drop out". It is still done in the Lowlands (Rorie); in the Highlands, it was said you had to heat the leaf for corns (Polson). Even a dampened TOBACCO leaf has been used - only for a few days, though (Maloney).
They can be dealt with by a mixture of WILD SORREL and lard, according to Illinois practice (Hyatt), and CRANBERRIES are also used there, by applying a poultice of freshly mashed fruit (Hyatt). BITING STONECROP, too, is applied, bruised, not only to corns, but also warts (Flück). Squeeze the juice of RED CAMPION on them, and they will come out (a Somerset remedy) (Tongue. 1965), and the juice of TOUCH-ME-NOT can be used, too (McLeod). Corn-leaves is a name given in Worcestershire to WALL PENNYWORT, commemorating a widespread usage of the leaf as a corn or chilblain plaster (Grigson. 1955). Just applying the leaves of MARIGOLDS is a traditional Scottish way of dealing with the problem (Rorie). PENNYROYAl leaves applied to corns will get rid of them (H M Hyatt). So will the sap of GREATER CELANDINE, though care has to be taken, for this sap is corrosive, and may well raise a blister, or even an ulcer (Flück). They can be dealt with by using TORMENTIL, too. On South Uist it was done by chewing the plant, and then applying it to the corn in a bandage (Shaw).
A French charm for corns is to put a piece of KNOTGRASS in a pocket on the same side as the corn, and say "Que mon cor s'en aille á l'aide de cette herbe" (Sebillot).
Cornus sanguínea > DOGWOOD Coronilla varia > CROWN VETCH Coronopus squamatus > WART-CRESS
Corylus avellana > HAZEL COSMETICS
A manuscript of 1610, published in the Gentleman s Magazine, prescribed BROAD BEAN flowers, distilled, as a lotion with which to wash the face. "and it will be fair". Earlier, Gerard had said that "the meale of Beanes clenseth away the filth of the skin", and Hill, later, repeated the prescription. FUMITORY is even more important as a face wash and skin purifier (Fernie).
If you wish to be pure and holy,
Wash your face with fevertory (Dartnell &
A leaf infusion is used (C P Johnson), or the whole plant boiled in water, milk and whey (Black). "... its remarkable virtues are those of clearing the skin of many disorders ." (Thornton), especially for babies with scalp trouble (Ireland) (Moloney).
Them that is fair and fair would be
May wash them-selves in butter milk and fumitory.
And them that is black and black would be
The leaves of SWEET BASIL with GREAT BURNET, steeped in boiling water, make a cooling face wash (H N Webster). It seems that MOUNTAIN CLUBMOSS (Urostachys selago) was used in the Scottish Highlands as a skin tonic. Women and girls steeped the moss in boiling water. Then the liquid, cooled, was used as a lotion (Beith). ELDER flower in this context is much better known.They are still used as an ingredient in skin ointments (Mabey. 1972). The very first issue of Illustrated London News (1842) carried an advertisment for Godfrey's extract of elderflowers for ladies' complexions. The inner bark and the leaves, as well as the flowers, were used in Cambridgeshire for the ointment (Porter), but the lotion was made from the flowers only, for "whitening the skin" (Trevelyan), or for washing off sunburn and freckles (Friend). SILVERWEED, often steeped in buttermilk, was used to remove freckles and brownness of the face (Black). Gerard also advised its use to "take away freckles, spots, pimples in the face, and sun-burning", and it is even said that this herb will remove the marks of smallpox (Billson). Elderflower tea was even drunk in Dorset for the good of the complexion (Dacombe). Washing the face with MELON rind, according to a Kentucky practice, will get rid of freckles (Thomas & Thomas), and so would the sliced roots of BLUE FLAG (Le Strange).
A decoction of OAKAPPLES was recommended for blackening the hair, for sunburn, freckles, pimples, etc., (Thomson. 1978). According to Evelyn, "the leaves (of WAYFARING TREE) decocted to a lie, not only colour the hairs black, but fastens their roots"). A MYRTLE decoction too could be used for dyeing the hair black, and not only that, but "it keepeth them from shedding" (Gerard). Candied myrtle blossoms were supposed to beautify the complexion (Wiltshire). A hair dye can be made from BRAMBLE leaves, too. Boil them in a strong lye; it gives the hair a soft, black colour, reckoned to be permanent (Fer-nie), something that Culpeper claimed in his herbal. ROSEMARY too provided a rinse for dark hair. It is even claimed that it prevents greying. Fresh rosemary water is reckoned the best (though dried leaves will do at a pinch (Brownlow)), and the way to make it is to simmer a large bunch of the herb, stalks and all, in water, and rain water for preference, for about an hour (Rohde). It is still used to good effect in shampoos to eliminate dandruff (Hemphill). Rather optimistically, it was one of the ingredients of preparations to stop the hair falling out, or to make it grow again (see BALDNESS). Milk baths were once a fashionable cosmetic medication, and rosemary was one of the ingredients in a 17th century example, from Gervase Markham (about 1610). The instructions were to "take Rosemary, Featherfew, Orgaine, Pellitory-of-the wall, Fenell, Mallowes, Violet leaves and Nettles, boil all these together, and when it is well sodden, put to it two or three gallons of milk, then let the party stand or sit in it an hour or two, the bath reaching up to the stomach, and when they come out, they must go to bed and sweat, and beware of taking cold" (Wykes-Joyce). SAFFRON has been used in the Middle East to dye the hair a golden colour (Genders. 1972), and MARIGOLD too has been used. Turner, in 1551, vented his displeasure at people who "make their hayre yelow wyth the flour of this herbe, not beynge content with the natural colour, which God hath gyven them". But they were being used for a popular hair dye for a long time after Turner's day (A W Hatfield, 1973). CAMOMILE is still being used in shampoos for fair hair. Or camomile water can be made at home. Simply steep the dried flowers in boiling water and strain off when cool (Hawke). On the Greek island of Chios, camomile is used to dye the hair a light chestnut colour, almost gold (Argenti & Rosa). The ley of BARBERRY ash and water used as a hair wash will turn it yellow, according to Langham, and after him, Culpeper. From this, it was a small step to believng that it actually made the hair grow. You had to wash your head with the water in which barberry had been boiled - but "take care that the wash does not touch any part where the hair should not grow" (Leyel. 1926).
HONEYSUCKLE as a drug plant does not seem appropriate, but its use as a cosmetic is much more in keeping with the feeling that the plant inspires. Lotions and ointments were made of it. One, from the mid 16th century, orders: "Take a pint of white wine, one handful of woodbine leaves or two or three ounces of the water of woodbine, add a quarter of a pound of the powder of ginger; seethe them all together until they be somewhat thick, and anoint a red pimpled face therewith, five or six times, and it will make it fair" (Lupton). COWSLIPS enjoyed a similar reputation. An ointment "made with the juice of Cowslips and oile of Linseed" used to be well-known as a good thing to improve the complexion (Dyer. 1889), and is still being recommended - "cowslip leaves in a cold cream base do much to hinder wrinkles and preserve the complexion". Culpeper says "Venus lays claim to this herb as her own, and it is under the sign Aries, and our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it adds beauty, or at least restores it when it is lost". He agreed with the earlier prescription, for he says the flowers "are held more effectuall than the leaves". Cornish girls believed their complexion could be improved if they rubbed their skin with wild STRAWBERRY leaves. Actually, the belief is widespread - see, for instance, this verse of a version of "Dabbling in the dew":
Pray whither so trippingly, pretty fair maid,
With your face rosy-white and your soft yellow hair?
Sweet sir, to the well in the summer-wood shade
For strawberry leaves make the young maiden fair
The leaves are astringent, as are most of the Rosaceae, so there was likely to be sound reason for the practice. An infusion of the whole CHICORY plant has long been used as a cosmetic - applied at bedtime, it will remove blemishes from the skin (Genders. 1976). But Thomas Hill in 1577 wrote that "Ciccorie cureth scabbed places, causeth a faire skin ...". Gerard seems to be invoking the doctrine of signatures when he recommended the yellow flowers of TOADFLAX in decoction to take away "the yellownesse and deformitie of the skinne, being washed and bathed therewith". Eating WATER MELON rinds is an Alabama way of achieving a smooth complexion (R B Browne). A young man in Morocco who wants his beard to grow rubs his skin with a piece of water melon, for the juice was thought to produce the desired effect (Westermarck). TANSY soaked in milk had the reputation of "making the complexion very fair" (Dyer); in other words it was used as a cosmetic wash to remove sunburn. DANDELION flowers, boiled for half an hour in water, make a cosmetic wash to get rid of freckles on the face (Palaiseul). Wrinkles were treated with a face-pack of FENNEL, tea and honey (Addison). The water that collected in the cups formed by the fusing together of TEASEL's opposite leaves, "so fastened that they hold dew and raine water in manner of a little bason" (Gerard), was much prized for cosmetic use. Culpeper knew about this, but he described it as the distilled water of the leaves, used by women "to preserve their beauty", hence the names Our Lady's Basin (Macmillan), and Venus's Bath, or Basin (Britten & Holland).
Leicestershire girls washed their faces in this water, in order to make themselves more beautiful (Billson), and the folk use was known in Wales, too - there it was said to be a remedy for freckles (Trevelyan). Gerard recommended WHITE BRYONY for the complexion, for "it scoureth the skin, and taketh away wrinkles, freckles, sun burning, black markes, spots and scars of the face, being tempered with the meale of vetches, or Tares, or of Fenugreeks. It could be used for bruises, too, hence the French name herbe aux femmes battues (Cullum). And the ladies of Salerno were reputed to have steeped bryony roots in honey to put on their faces, "which gives them a marvellous blush" (Withington). Gerard reported that "if the face be washed with juyce (of WATER BETONY), it taketh away the rednesse and deformity of it". BURNET SAXIFRAGE is another plant once used as a cosmetic. In Italy, they used to say that if a woman eats it, her beauty will increase (Skinner). More conventionally, Gerard recommended "the juice of the leaves ... doth cleanse and take away all spots and freckles of the face, and leaveth a good colour ...". The distilled water, too was used as a cosmetic (Leyel. 1937). Gerard wrote "Matthiolus teacheth, that a water is drawne out of the roots (of SOLOMON'S SEAL), wherewith the women of Italy use to scour their faces from Sunne-burning, freckles, morphew or any such deformities of the skinne". What is interesting is that a soap was made until recent times, from this plant, in the Kingsclere district of Hampshire, for just the purpose outlined by Gerard (Read). He was alive, too, to the use to which CUCUMBER could be put in clarifying the skin (a use re-discovered in modern times): "being steeped and outwardly applied in stead of a clenser, it maketh the skin smooth and faire". He was able to indulge his humour on this subject as he went on to say "the fruit cut in pieces or chopped as herbes to the pot, and boiled in a small pipkin with a piece of mutton, ... taken ... for the space of three weekes together without intermission, doth perfectly cure all manner of sauce flegme and copper faces, red and shining fierie red noses (as red as red Roses) with pimples, pumples, and such like prescious faces". Not only is CHICKWEED a lucky plant for people of the Fen country, it is also said that, if gathered when the dew was still on it, then crushed and applied to the face, it was thought to turn the plainest woman into a beauty (Porter. 1969).
A hair dye, popular in Lancashire in the 17th century, was obtained from BOG ASPHODEL. After the flowers have faded, the stems change to a saffron colour, and the hair dye was extracted from these (Freethy), and an early 17th century auburn hair dye had as its principal, constituents RADISH and PRIVET (Wykes-Joyce). In the 16th century, it was being claimed (by Langham) that the "lee wherein the leaves (of BOX) have been sodden or steeped maketh the haire yelowe being often washed therewith". SAGE
tea can ease a sunburnt face, if it is washed with it (Page. 1978), and the tea has been used in Scotland as a hair wash (Gibson, 1959), for cold sage tea has been regarded as a hair tonic, at least in America, and it will also darken the hair (H M Hyatt). Quince-seed lotion, made by stewing the seeds in water, was used as a hair lotion, "for giving ladies' hair a fine wavy appearance" (Savage). MULLEIN flowers were used to dye the hair yellow (Rohde. 1936), at least as early as Parkinson's time, for he tells us that the flowers "boyled in lye dyeth the haires of the head yellow and maketh them faire and smooth" (Parkinson. 1640). One can still buy camomile and mullein shampoo for fair hair. SCENTED MAYWEED is another ingredient in hair rinses, and it seems to have been farmed in one area of Hungary just for this purpose (Clair).
ROSE OF CHINA (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) has beautiful flowers, but the red colour turns black when they are bruised, and then a shoe blacking medium can be made, hence such odd looking names as Shoeflower (Wit), Shoe Black (Campbell-Culver) and Blacking Plant (J Smith. 1882). And, for our purpose here, the blacking can be used for colouring the eyebrows. Dew recovered from the cups of WHITE WATERLILY was used in Hampshire to enhance the appearance of the eyes (Hampshire FWI). DEADLY NIGHTSHADE has also been used for the same purpose. Its alternative name, BELLADONNA, owes its existence to the custom on the Continent for women to use it as a cosmetic to make the eyes sparkle (Brownlow) (atropine is still used by oculists to dilate the pupils).
HENNA leaves, powdered and mixed with whitewash, or water, are laid on the skin as cosmetics all through the orient (Loewenthal), and have been since ancient Egyptian times. Mummies show that women painted their fingernails and finger tips, their palms, and the soles of their feet, as is still done in many areas today. The dye needs renewing every two or three weeks (Moldenke & Moldenke). But it would be wrong to look at the use of henna as a simple cosmetic. It is applied just as often as a protection against supernatural attack, and particularly against the evil eye, red being a good prophylactic colour (see EVIL EYE, and PROTECTIVE PLANTS). PUCCOON roots were used, too, for facial painting. The fresh root would be dipped in grease, and simply rubbed on the face. American Indian groups like the Thompson were reported as using it (Teit). Puccoon's near relative in Britain, GROMWELL, was similarly used. Thornton was able to write that "the root is used by ladies as paint". "The gentlewomen of France do paint their faces with roots [of ALKANET]" (Gerard). It seems to be one of the most ancient of face cosmetics. This use of the roots for making rouge led to the plant becoming known as a symbol of falsehood (Folkard). Oil of SPIKENARD was included with other oils to make spikenard ointment, once used in cosmetics
(Zohary), and Oil of Santal, distilled from the heartwood of SANDALWOOD is another ingredient of Eastern perfumes and cosmetics (Usher). TURMERIC, the typical yellow dye, was used mainly as a cosmetic in the Pacific islands, often with sexual overtones. On Tikopia, it is daubed over mother and child soon after birth, as a mark of attention, or even of honour. It was used to single out individuals who were at the moment of special interest or importance. (Firth).
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